Refuel like an Olympian before your next cancer treatment

Written by Community Health Network on 2/7/2014 12:30:00 PM

Cancer treatments can leave you fatigued and physically drained. What can you do to re-energize? If we think of food as fuel, then what we eat will make a difference. Like the Olympians in Sochi who use food to fuel for performance, cancer patients must also use food for fuel. You can use your diet to help prepare your body to fight the disease.

Here are five tips for making fueling post-treatment delicious, easy and healthy.

Eat breakfast.

Whether you are a figure skater, bobsledder or cancer patient, breakfast is important. Blood sugar is at its lowest levels in the morning, so eating easy-to-digest carbohydrates like whole-grain toast or oatmeal will help you get a good start. You’ll get your metabolism working and start the day off energized.

Stay hydrated.

Drink water. As a cancer care patient, you’re going to be juggling the side effects from chemo and radiation therapies. Drinking water is always recommended, especially to help prevent constipation, diarrhea, dry mouth, and nausea.

You can also try jazzing it up with a spritz of lemon or citrus flavors. Try this citrus-infused water recipe >>

Avoid diet extremes.

Being treated for cancer may mean you need extra calories and protein to keep your strength up. But this can be hard when appetite is low and some foods aren’t tolerable.

“Avoid eating challenging foods during cancer treatment,” said Robin Stahl, RD, CD, at Community Health Network. “Hard to digest foods such as very spicy, extremely sweet or heavily breaded fried foods are usually not well tolerated. Focus instead on foods that are middle of the road in terms of their ease of digestion.”

Some examples of foods that hit the mark for both nutrition and good tolerance are:

  • Chicken
  • Potatoes
  • Pasta
  • Bread
  • Green beans
  • Carrots
  • Canned fruit
  • Yogurt

Replenish key nutrients.

Chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy can deplete minerals in the body and prevent absorption of key nutrients. “Try eating beef, pork, liver, dried beans, iron fortified cereals and egg yolks to boost the iron in your diet,” said Stahl.

Try to eat. (Even if you don't have an appetite.)

Staying well-nourished can be a challenge when appetite is lowered by cancer treatment. Finding foods that taste good to you and making the most of those foods by increasing the calories per bite is best.

“You can easily add extra butter and whole milk to the cream of chicken soup or mashed potatoes, and that will substantially add calories,” said Stahl.

If nausea is the barrier to staying well-nourished, Stahl recommends sipping favorite beverages followed by dry crackers.

“Ginger Ale or tea and toast or saltines and gelatin are all possible anti-nausea fixes. The food that calms nausea can be very unique to the individual,” said Stahl.

Ask for help.

It is not uncommon for chemo drugs and radiation treatments to change the way you look at food. The body is going through some difficult challenges. Eating with a friend has been found to be helpful for patients. A little encouragement and social interaction may make the food on your plate more appealing.

“Sometimes radiation can create tenderness to the body area being treated. If the abdomen or neck are involved the patient may have specific issues related to eating and digesting. They should consult with a registered dietitian.”

Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and other cancer treatments can be hard on your body. Fortunately, making healthy food choices can help you feel better and speed your recovery.

Contact a Community dietitian

Our registered dietitians can help you develop meal plans and give you tips for balancing your diet with your cancer care goals. Visit our website to see a full list of diet and nutrition services. To make an appointment with a Community Health Network registered dietitian, call centralized scheduling at 317-355-4680.

Appointments available!

To make an appointment with an MD Anderson Cancer Network® certified physician at Community, call 800-777-7775 today!



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